Julian Assange has launched a scathing attack on Australian PM Julia Gillard, accusing her of trying to "shoot the messenger" and failing to protect one of her country’s citizens against death threats from foreign politicians.
The charges appeared on the website of The Australian newspaper as Assange himself arrived to appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.
Assange was arrested this morning at around 9:30 GMT by the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit, following the receipt of a European arrest warrant sent authorities in Sweden, where Assange is accused of rape and sexual molestation - charges he says are politically motivated, and part of a smear campaign.
Writing in The Australian’s Media Diary Blog. Assange described Prime Minister Gillard’s “disgraceful pandering” to American pressure over 'Cablegate', WikiLeaks’ recent release of secret cables sent by US embassies worldwide.
"We are the underdogs," claimed Assange. "The Gillard government is trying to shoot the messenger because it doesn’t want the truth revealed, including information about its own diplomatic and political dealings."
The WikiLeaks founder is also reportedly considering legal action against Gillard for defamation, after she accused Assange of "illegal" action when speaking outside parliament, without the benefit of parliamentary immunity.
In an emotive defence of what he calls WikiLeaks’ “scientific journalism”, Assange revealed his small-town upbringing had been a major influence on his activism:
“I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully.
"These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth."
Assange slammed what he called the "provably false chorus" of claims by senior Australian politicians that WikiLeaks had endangered lives, and rounded on Gillard and Australian attorney-general Robert McClelland for having failed to provide him, as an Australian citizen, with protection after prominent figures in the US had called for his assassination.
Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin called for Assange to be “hunted down like Osama Bin Laden”, and Tom Flanagan, a former senior aide to Canadian PM Stephen Harper urged US President Barack Obama to “put a contract out” on him.
A US blogger has even urged the kidnapping of Assange’s 20-year-old son.
WikiLeaks said in a post on Twitter that Assange’s arrest would not interrupt the publication of more secret US diplomatic cables, and plans to release a pre-recorded video statement from its founder today.
The group has denied rumours that it plans to release the 256-digit key required to unlock the ‘insurance’ file posted online in August.